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College Football Preview 2018: 23. LSU Tigers

23. LSU Tigers

The addition of QB Joe Burrow helps, but this team has a tough road ahead in the perilous SEC West

Devin White
Offense: A new offensive coordinator arrives in Baton Rouge, following a frustrating one-year experiment with Matt Canada, who was previously at Pitt. Canada and head coach Ed Orgeron clashed often, and the offense continued to be mediocre at best, finishing ninth in the conference with 27.2 points per game. New OC Steve Ensminger will orchestrate a balanced, pro-style attack and now likely has a new QB.

Ohio State transfer Joe Burrow announced just this spring he was joining the Tigers, who desperately needed help at the position following the graduation of Danny Etling. Burrow didn't see much real action with the Buckeyes, but he gained experience in practice, and has a great feel for the game. He will still face competition from sophomore Myles Brennan and redshirt freshman Lowell Narcisse. Brennan is the only one back who has seen any significant game action, while Narcisse impressed in the spring. 

Burrow should win the starting job, and have plenty of weapons in the receiving game. LSU coaches are the most excited they've been for this receiver group since Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. were on campus. Texas Tech transfer Jonathan Giles is a proven playmaker, and can really stretch the field. LSU won't likely throw the ball deep much in this offense, but Giles can still take the top off a defense when they do. Sophomore Justin Jefferson and junior Stephen Sullivan looked ready to contribute in the spring, and there is significant upside there. True freshman Terrace Marshall also comes in with plenty of fanfare as a five-star prospect from Bossier City, Louisiana. He'll find ways to get on the field. Senior tight end Foster Moreau is the Tigers leading returning receiver, after managing 278 yards on 24 receptions in '17.

Runningback is a concern right now for LSU, as they watched star Derrius Guice leave early for the NFL. For the first time since 1974, LSU does not return a back who had a touchdown the year previously. Senior Nick Brossette had 19 carries a season ago and will open the year as the feature back, with sophomore Clyde Edwards-Helaire in a supporting role.

The Tigers should be strong on the offensive line, with three starters returning. However, the Tigers are inexperienced at both tackle spots, and this is a group that will be tested early by two physical defenses within the first three weeks of the season in Miami and Auburn. 

Ensminger will be a nice breath of fresh air, and there is hope Burrow can spark a passing game that has been missing in Baton Rouge for some time. Yet, the concerns at running back are concerning, and you wonder if this offense really has enough weapons to stay afloat in the SEC. I don't see them improving on last year's average numbers.

Defense: Per usual, LSU's defense should be their guiding force, led once again by rising defensive coordinator Dave Aranda. Aranda, who was formerly at Wisconsin, got a ton of interest from Texas A&M but a hefty $10 million contract over four years secured his spot in Baton Rouge.

Aranda has a number of breakout candidates to work with on this defensive line, including junior defensive end Rashard Lawrence and another Texas Tech transfer Breiden Fehoko. Neither really have the pedigree to back them up, but the upside is most definitely there. Junior Ed Alexander returns to bolster the interior, but big things are expected of Tyler Shelvin, who sat out last year due to academic reasons.

Linebacker Devin White's return almost guarantees LSU's rush defense will be stout, as the junior is one of the best there is nationally. White finished with 133 tackles a year ago, and displayed unlimited range, making him one of the biggest difference-makers in the country. He should compete for All-American honors, and possibly more. Fellow junior outside linebacker Michael Divinity has shown flashes and should now be able to secure a starting spot, but the inside 'backer position is a relative concern, with no favorite emerging.

The Tigers have long hailed themselves as "DBU" for the talent they produce in the defensive backfield, which includes names like Tyrann Mathieu, Patrick Peterson, Eric Reid and Morris Claiborne. The hope is that a new name can be added to that list, Andraez "Greedy" Williams. The sophomore has already drawn NFL attention in large part to his physical play and ability to force turnovers, finishing with six interceptions in 2017. The safety positions should be in good hands, as veterans Josh Battle and Grant Delpit both return. However, the cornerback spot opposite of Williams will have to be figured out. Sophomore Jontre Kirklin was the favorite coming out of spring, but grad transfer Terrence Alexander or true frosh Kelvin Joseph, a local star, could overcome him.

Aranda has cemented himself as one of the top defensive minds in the country, and it should not be long until he is the head coach at some well-known school. He does suffer some losses, but this is not a group lacking star power, with Williams and White in the fold. Expect the Tigers to be as stingy and hard-nosed as ever on the defensive end.

Special Teams: Kicker was a huge problem for LSU last season, so Orgeron and staff brought in Cole Tracy, a senior transfer to help fix their special teams woes. The Tigers could also oversee a position battle at punter, with Zach Von Rosenburg and Josh Growden both expected to see playing time. Jonathan Giles will be an immediate help in the punt return game.

After a rocky start to the Orgeron era, which included a stunning loss to Troy on the school's homecoming, the Tigers showed significant resiliency last season. The hope is that a new QB and new offensive coordinator can finally jolt a long-time suffering offense, and the D can continue to be the guiding force for this team. It is a good start, but the concerns at running back and a daunting schedule are really going to limit this team's potential. Even if LSU wins a tough, neutral site opener against Miami they have to deal with the loaded SEC West and cross-division games with Georgia and Florida on the road. LSU has enough to be a factor in the loaded SEC, but until we see sustained offensive success and a balanced offense, they remain more of a dark horse than a serious candidate to win the conference. Another eight to nine win campaign seems on the horizon in Baton Rouge.

Team Projections:
Projected Record: 8-4 (5-3 SEC)
SEC West Finish: 4th
Offensive MVP: WR Jonathan Giles
Defensive MVP: LB Devin White
Breakout Player of the Year: DE Breiden Fehoko

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